This morning’s Gospel reading is Mark 16:15–20:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.
Those words usually follow any deep spiritual experience. We come out of it and wonder how we integrate any insights and progress into our daily lives and its routines, its challenges, and its temptations. At one silent retreat I attended, the priest who led it urged us to post an acronym where we could see it every day: WSDAM. It looks as though it should be pronounced “wisdom,” and perhaps it should be. It stood for What’s So Different About Monday?
The point in the moment was to take our retreat experience, which ended on Sunday, and translate it into the Mondays of our lives. In order to truly find ourselves on that path, however, we needed to translate it into a noisy world full of distractions and obligations, all of which we had tuned out during our four-day silent retreat. The connection we felt to the Lord and to each other during the retreat — even in silence — was just a foretaste of what life in the Lord would be like in eternity.
What’s So Different About Monday? Everything in one sense, but nothing in the spiritual sense. The retreat was exactly that — a time-out from the world to refocus our priorities and center our hearts in the Holy Spirit. It’s easy to do that for four days — well, not exactly easy, but certainly easier to do when ignoring everything else for a short period of time.
The retreat, and others like it, aren’t designed to replace our real lives, except for the few called to enter the monastic life full time. The rest of us have our missions in our everyday lives, for which these retreats can only prepare us rather than replace our lives. Jesus does not call us to withdraw from the world, after all, as we hear in today’s Ascension Sunday readings — we are called to go out into the world and make disciples among all the nations.
The apostles must have asked themselves, “What’s next?” after Christ ascended to heaven. They had followed Jesus for three years by that point; one can even think of that as a kind of retreat. They left their jobs and obligations to commit themselves to following and assisting Jesus, only for three years rather than four days. At the end of that “retreat,” they saw Him welcomed as a king, reviled as a traitor, crucified along with thieves, and miraculously resurrected — all within a fortnight.
And as odd as it is to think about, now the hard work began. In the alternate first reading today from Acts 1:15-26, Peter had to lead the apostles in the day-to-day business of the organization. Judas Iscariot had betrayed Jesus and then killed himself, and Peter had to replace him. This isn’t exactly a scintillating episode in Acts, but it’s a crucial teaching. Even after the long retreat of three years and its universe-shattering conclusion, the apostles all understood that they had jobs to do, and that required the use of worldly processes, negotiations, organization, and so on.
Although it’s not mentioned in the passage, one can easily imagine this episode taking place on a Monday.
There are two indispensable lessons in this reading from Acts. First, it set the precedent for apostolic succession in the election of bishops, through which the Holy Spirit works in the Church. But it’s more than just a story about a board meeting. How do they accomplish this task? After finding two men worthy of the open seat, they prayed and asked the Holy Spirit to guide their decision. They engaged with the Lord, even in their worldly and mundane tasks, acknowledging His lordship and keeping His mission at the center of their day-to-day decisions and actions.
This is how we are called to fulfill our mission as children of God as well. We may be butchers and bakers and candlestick makers, vocations that have little to do with scripture specifically. The Lord calls us to do our best in these vocations, as well as in our vocations in family, to put His Word at the center of what we do and how we live. That is how we accomplish Jesus’ mission to us, given at His ascension, to go and make disciples of the whole world. Not in retreat, but in engagement.
WSDAM? That’s the day we have to get back to work.
The front-page image is a detail from “The Ascension of Christ” by Pietro Perugino, c. 1495-98, on display at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, Lyon, France. Via WikiArt.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.